One of the year’s most striking films, marked by daring originality and a singular directorial vision, Ahed’s Knee is unlike any other film you’ll see this year at TIFF. At times harsh, uncompromising and a tough watch, this is a film that speaks to what has become of our world today in the bluntest, most honest of ways.
More than a typical narrative feature, Ahed’s Knee is an essay about what it’s like to have a lot to say in a world that simply just won’t listen. How is it like to have all these opinions, thoughts and anger buried within, especially if you’re a filmmaker whose gift is to craft stories to share them with the world? Such gift quickly turns to agony when your stories aren’t welcome, when there’s a specific template to follow so you can pass endless levels of censorship, when your very existence as a filmmaker with a voice of their own is seen as a potential threat unless you follow what’s expected of you to say.
A scathing critique to social systems of conformity and political ideologies that leaves no room for discourse and debate, Ahed’s Knee takes us inside the mind of a filmmaker trying to maintain his voice amidst the noise – to speak up when the only alternative to abiding by authoritarian ideologies is to be silenced, pushed to the side, and ultimately forgotten.
A beautiful rumination on artists’ strive to stay true to themselves, relevant to what’s going on around them and maintain their integrity, Lapid creates a remarkable, undeniably bold and original, picture that is as unpredictable as it is essential and relatable. While focusing on modern-day Israel, this is truly a global film about the state of storytelling in the age of conformity, political correctness and social structures that has transformed imagination into an unfortunate form of gatekeeping.
The film opens with Y (played wonderfully by Avshalom Pollak), a once celebrated filmmaker and artist who is just about to start casting for his next project. There is one major problem though: this is not a project society wants to see, at least not from the point of view Y is trying to get across. His picture is inspired by real-life Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi who has been shamed in local media with public calls for her torture and death by right-wing activists in the country.
While casting for the film, Y receives an invitation to present one of his films in a local library located in a small town in the arid Arava Valley. The region is desert-like and almost mundanely devoid of any modernity, but it’s there that Y goes through a series of crucial encounters that bring about heartbreaking revelations about the increasingly oppressive systems of censorship that leave no room for freedom of speech, and more importantly, the freedom to imagine, the ability to express new perspectives, and the right to speak up against notions that are imposingly deemed untouchable.
Lapid directs the film with such energy and such anger that you can almost feel through the screen. The film’s unconventional, but perfectly fitting, camera movement works to capture Y’s sense of loss, confusion and underlying frustration with a system he can’t change and a society he can’t not belong to.
Bottom line: Angry, energetic and incredibly original, Ahed’s Knee is an important reminder of the often hefty price of conformity and its damaging consequences on those whose very existence relies on having a voice. A masterful film and certainly one of the year’s best films.
This review is from the Toronto International Film Festival. There is no U.S. distribution at this time.